About This Program
Beim Abschied zu Singen (Song of Parting) Op. 84 (1847)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
In 1847 Karl Emanuel Klitzsch (1812–1889), a friend of Robert and Clara Schumann, invited the Schumanns to the Zwickau Schumann Festival, a music festival organized in Robert’s honor. Klitzsch was one of the cofounders and contributors to the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik and was Musikdirektor of Zwickau. Schumann wrote to Klitzsch during the preparations that he was composing an encore: “a little song for chorus with wind instruments on Feuchtersleben’s ‘Es ist bestimmt in Gottes Rath’.” Days later he sent it with the following note: “Here is my farewell song. I find it a little melancholy, but we should at least give it a try! If we feel it is too sad as a final piece, then we can omit it. Do not include it in the program yet.”
At the Festival there was a procession by torchlight and a serenade in Robert Schumann’s honor. Schumann’s “farewell song” was conducted by the composer. This beautiful work with its simple, tuneful writing is reminiscent of Schumann’s Romanzen und Balladen. The almost chorale-style permeates the text with its message stressing the need of acceptance in the face of loss. This simplicity and the religious overtones of the work encompass both the secular and sacred sphere. Klitzsch later gave a glowing review of the work in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik:
“A rather warm and passionate composition which swelled from the composer’s heart. This song radiates this passion and is so close to Schumann’s character that we cannot expect a different interpretation than the one presented. The entire piece is very simple: the chorus alternates with the soloists, whereby there are many shadings to enhance the attraction of the sonorities, further enhanced by the discreet support of the wind instruments. While it is a simple song and easy to perform, it still requires great delicacy in treatment.”
Ernst Maria Johann Karl Freiherr von Feuchtersleben was an Austrian physician, poet and philosopher, one of whose achievements was coining the term “psychosis.” His poem “Es ist bestimmt in Gottes Rat” was and still is quite well-known. In addition to Robert Schumann, it also received musical settings by Felix Mendelssohn (1839) and Feruccio Busoni (1884), as well as a 13-measure draft fragment by Richard Wagner (1858).
Blowing of the Shofar
The shofar is an ancient instrument, traditionally made from a ram’s horn. In ancient Israel it was used for both religious and secular purposes. In the Bible, the shofar was said to have been blown to aid in the destruction of Jericho. “And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of ram’s horns before the ark. …and the priests shall blow the trumpets… when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet….then the wall of the city will fall down flat.” (Joshua 6:1-5) “When the people heard the sound of the rams’ horns, they shouted as loud as they could. Suddenly, the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the Israelites charged straight into the town and captured it.” (Joshua 6:20) The shofar was commonly taken to war so the troops would know when a battle would begin. The troops were able to hear the call of the shofar because of its distinct sound. The shofar was also blown at the coronation of Israelite kings.
In this concert the shofar is blown both as an announcement and to signify gathering together for a common purpose. The quotation accompanying the blowing of the shofar is from Nehemiah 4:20: “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there.” This verse refers to the time of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple after the Judeans returned from their exile in Babylon. The nearby tribes, in a coalition led by Sanballat of the Samaritans, opposed the Israelites’ work. The Samaritans were the descendants of people who had settled in the lands of the former Kingdom of Israel, having intermarried with the remnant people after the bulk of the Israelites were forced into exile by the Babylonians. The Samaritans had developed a different religion, although somewhat similar to Judaism. The Samaritans and other tribes resented the return of the Judaeans to their land and felt threatened. In the Book of Ezra it is described how they complained to the Persian king Artaxerxes about the rebuilding, which caused work on it to stop for a time (Ezra 4:7-23).
The coalition forces surrounded Jerusalem and threatened to attack, which could have come from any direction. Guards were posted to protect the workers building the wall, but there were not enough guards to man the entire wall. Nehemiah kept a shofar player near him, and instructed the guards and workers that if they heard the shofar to gather at that place, because that would mean there was an attack there.
Chant des Partisans (Song of the Partisan Fighters) (1940)
Anna Marly (1917-2006)
In June 1940 France signed the Second Armistice at Compiègne and surrendered to the invading German forces. France became divided: the Germans occupied the north and west, and the remainder of the country was designated the zone libre, administered by the Vichy government led by Marshal Philippe Pétain. However, in 1942 the Germans and Italians occupied the zone libre, and in October 1943 the Germans occupied the entire country.
During the occupation, a French resistance movement developed. At first it was composed of urban intellectuals who risked severe punishment by publishing anti-German handbills and newspapers. Its ranks were joined by Jews (for obvious reasons) and communists (especially after Adolf Hitler broke his nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union and attacked on the Eastern Front in June of 1941), and partisans began engaging in sabotage and other paramilitary operations. In early 1943 the Vichy government agreed to the Service du Travail Obligatoire, new work rules requiring the forced labor in Germany of virtually all able-bodied Frenchmen. Almost immediately, thousands of young men—especially in the south of France—fled to the countryside, living in the scrubland. They called themselves the “Maquis”, a word that loosely translates to “the bush.” Estimates of the number of active participants in La Résistance vary from 75,000 to over 400,000. Although the success of their paramilitary operations was uneven (given the fact that they were untrained civilians facing seasoned troops, and mainly had outdated weapons and equipment), the intelligence the French resistance provided to the Allies in connection with the Normandy invasion proved invaluable to the success of Operation Overlord (“D-Day”) and later Allied operations in France.
Anna Marly was called the “Troubadour of the Resistance”, and wrote more than 300 songs. However, she is best known for Le Chant des Partisans. Marly (originally Betoulinsky) was born in Russia, but fled to France with her mother after the Bolshevik revolution, where she adopted the name Marly. Then when the Germans invaded she escaped to London. She wrote the Chant in London, and told a newspaper reporter, “I sang this song at a private party one night and everyone was just astonished and moved. It was just what the French needed to encourage them to resist the enemy that was occupying their country.”
Marly’s original lyrics were re-worked by several writers and poets, chief among them French novelists-in-exile Maurice Druon and Joseph Kessel. This is a passionate, somewhat bloodthirsty song. The lyrics refer to grenades, dynamite, and knives, and exhort the partisan fighters to kill the occupiers. Some lyrics are more symbolic—for instance, the line “Ami, entends-tu le vol noir des corbeaux sur nos plaines?” (“Friend, do you hear the black flight of crows on our plains?”) refers not literally to crows, but to German bombers.
The song became “the hymn of the resistance” in France and symbolized French determination to rid themselves of their occupiers. As the original sheet music cover from Editions Raoul Breton said, “Here is the song of liberty, the song of the French partisans, it is the song of a people who is free, it is the song of the men who do not want to be slaves, it is the new Marsellaise.”
A Dirge for Two Veterans H121 (1914)
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
Walt Whitman, poet and newspaper writer in New York, was in his forties when the Civil War started. Whitman did not serve in the army, but ended up serving in another way: in 1862 Whitman saw his brother’s name in a list of Union soldiers injured at the Battle of Fredericksburg. He immediately set out to find his brother. As it turned out, his brother had only suffered a very minor injury, but on that trip Whitman started visiting with injured soldiers in military hospitals, which he would do throughout the war. He wrote:
Thus in silence, in dream's projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and the wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night — some are so young;
Some suffer so much — I recall the experience sweet and sad;
(Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d and rested,
Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)
— Walt Whitman, “The Wound Dresser” (1867)
It has been said that more of Whitman’s works have been set to music than any other American poet. In addition to Gustav Holst’s setting on this concert, Dirge for Two Veterans has also been set by Kurt Weill as part of his Four Songs of Walt Whitman (1942) and as a movement in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem (1936), as well as a setting by British composer Charles Wood (1900). Whitman told a friend that the war “was the very center, circumference, umbilicus of my whole career.” It seems that Whitman felt he had helped cure a suffering nation with his poetry, much as he helped treat the wounds of soldiers on both sides of the fight. In his 1882 autobiography Whitman recalled the wartime years as “the most profound lesson of my life.”
Holst was also affected by his generation’s war, World War I. Holst’s daughter Imogen wrote of her father’s underlying inspiration for his Dirge for Two Veterans: “[T]he first thing [my father] wrote during [World War I] was the Dirge for Two Veterans . . . Many people have taken it for granted that Mars [from The Planets] was inspired by the war, knowing that it dates from 1914. But it was the Dirge that was to be his comment on that year of catastrophe.”
Holst was declared unfit for active service in World War I. He was disappointed to not be able to contribute to the war effort: his brother Emile had left the New York stage to join the army and Holst’s wife was driving ambulance loads of wounded soldiers to hospitals. His good friend Ralph Vaughan Williams was in the fighting in France and fellow musicians like George Butterworth were dying on the battlefields. Eventually, during the closing stages of the War, the YMCA offered him the post of “Musical Organiser” as part of their educational work among the troops in the Near East.
Feierlicher Einzug der Ritter des Johanniterordens (Solemn Processional of the Knights of the Order of St. John) TrV 224 (1909)
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Richard Strauss was already a well-known conductor and composer when he wrote Feierlicher Einzug der Ritter des Johanniterordens in 1909. He was expected to contribute pieces for civic celebrations of his music in Berlin, and as a result, he composed a handful of works set primarily for brass. The Feierlicher Einzug was composed for the investiture ceremonies of the Order of St. John. This powerful, majestic piece was originally scored for timpani and brass ensemble. Because of the size and instrumentation of the original (for example, calling for 15 trumpets in Eb), the arrangement being performed today is for the standard wind ensemble instrumentation.
The processional is preceded by a dramatic introduction: repeated distant calls underscored by a timpani roll, somewhat reminiscent of Wagner. This prelude is followed by a chorale-like march, growing in intensity as the Knights—or in this case the chorus—approach the stage.
The Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem is a Christian military order founded in Jerusalem in the 11th Century to care for poor, sick, or injured pilgrims to the Holy Land, when a group of knights in the First Crusade found a hospice operating in Jerusalem. The group dedicated themselves to charitable works, and was chartered by Pope Pascal II in 1113. The motto of the Order is Pro Fide, Pro Utilitate Hominum (For Faith, For Service to Humanity). The Sovereign Order evolved into a Christian, chivalric, ecumenical and sovereign military order which continued the work of helping the sick and the poor while also defending Christians in the Holy Lands. The organization still exists today, providing charitable assistance to the poor and sick all over the world. The various chapters still hold investiture ceremonies to welcome new Knights and Dames into the Order.
In this concert, the Feierlicher Einzug is being used according to its original intention as a processional, rather than a concert piece. It is one of several elements in the concert meant to “break the proscenium” or the so-called “fourth wall”, by intermingling the performers with the audience. Its solemnity sets the mood for the subject matter of the music which follows.
Krieger Chor: Wir Bauen und Sterben (Soldiers’ Song: We Build and Die”) WoO96 (1814)
Ludwig von Beethoven
In 1814 the Prussian Cabinet Secretary Johann Friedrich Leopold Duncker accompanied the King of Prussia to the Congress of Vienna. During his stay in Vienna, Duncker befriended Ludwig von Beethoven. Duncker had written a play called “Leonore Prohaska” and convinced Beethoven to write four pieces of incidental music for the play. Even with Beethoven’s music, Duncker’s play was never performed—quite possibly because a competing playwright had staged a drama with the same subject (Piwald’s Das Mädchen von Potsdam) in 1814.
Leonore Prohaska (or Eleonora Prochaska) was a hero of the Wars of Liberation against Napoleon. She was born in 1785, the daughter of a military musician. She studied music and is said by the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung to have been a skilled flutist, and gave recitals with her father.
Due to military defeats by Napoleon, Prussia was under virtual French rule as Leonore was growing up. Feeling patriotic fervor, she disguised herself as a male and, under the name August Renz, in 1813 enlisted in the 1st Jägerbataillons of Lützow’s Free Corps, the Schwarze Jäger (Black Hunters), either as a drummer or an infantryman. Lieutenant Otto Preusse wrote: “We were in Sandau on the Elbe. Here came also a hunter Renz to the company - as it turned out later, a girl named Prochaska. He became a wingman, 3 feet, 8 inches, 3 dash high - English shoes were delivered to us, all too big for Renz, and I had to work a couple especially for him. His language was not very fine, so no one in him could suspect a girl. Incidentally, he cooks excellently in the bivouacs.”
In the Battle of the Göhrde in September 1813 she was severely wounded. The surgeon who cared for her wounds discovered her true gender and had her taken to a burgher’s house in Dannenberg, where she succumbed to her injuries three weeks later. In the following years she was idealized as a virgin heroine and worshiped as the “Potsdamer Joan of Arc”. Various dramas and poems were written about her, including by Friedrich Rückert.
This piece clearly depicts the heroic, romantic view of war, and reflects the euphoria of the Sixth Coalition nations that drove Napoleon out of Germany in 1813.
Le Bardit des Francs (War Song of the Franks) (1926)
Albert Roussel (1869-1937)
The Franks were a Germanic tribe who, as the Roman empire was shrinking, ultimately carved out a sphere of influence in parts of what are now France, Belgium and Germany. “France” is, of course, derived from their name. During this period there were, unsurprisingly, a number of conflicts between the Franks and Romans. Pharamond (c. 365 – 430), the hero of Roussel’s song, was a legendary early king of the Franks.
The text of this song is an excerpt from Book VI of Les Martyrs (1809), which vividly describes the battle. The author was François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand, a French writer, politician, diplomat and historian who was at the forefront of Romanticism in French literature.
In 292 BCE, Roman forces led by Constantius (co-Emperor and father of Constantine the Great), along with their allied Gauls and Greeks, met Pharamond and the Franks, whose “helmets were in the shape of yawning mouths, overshadowed by the two wings of a vulture; their corselets were of iron, and their shields painted white; they resembled phantoms of the night.” At the beginning of the battle the Romans, Gauls and Greeks shouted their war songs; the Franks, “in answer to these, began their song of death; they applied their lips to the hollow of their shields, and raised a loud and melancholy sound, like the bellowing of the ocean when lashed into fury by the tempest; they then raised a shrill cry, and chanted the war-song to the praise of their heroes . . . Such was the song with which forty thousand barbarians rent the air. The horsemen beat time to the tune, and during the song they struck their iron javelins with violence, on their sounding shields.” This song by Roussel is the Franks’ war song. You can clearly hear the javelins striking the shields as the soldiers shout their battle cry, “Pharamond!” Les Martys graphically describes the battle:
The conflict grew warm; a whirlwind of dust arose and involved the combatants. The blood flowed like torrents swelled by the winter rains, like the waves of Euripus in the straits of Euboea. The Frank, proud of his wounds, which were more visible on his half-naked body, resembled a spectre that had burst from the tomb, and was stalking amidst the slain. The arms lost their brilliancy, all was dimmed with dust, with sweat, and with carnage. Broken helmets, scattered plumes, bucklers cloven asunder, and cuirasses pierced with many a stroke, strewed the ground in mingled confusion. The heated breath of a hundred thousand combatants, mingled with the fuming breath of the horses, and the vapor of sweat and blood, formed a kind of meteor on the field of battle, which flitted from sword to sword like a vivid flash of lightning through the darkness of the storm. Amidst the mingled sound of cries, shrieks, and menaces, the clash of swords and javelins, the hissing of darts and arrows, and the deeper murmurs of the machines of war, the voice of the commanders could no longer be distinguished.
Picture yourself in the midst of this battle. The “adrenaline rush” that many veterans experience in battle has been discussed extensively, such as in Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War (London 1998) and Joanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing (London 1999). It is a well-documented phenomenon. For example, Lt. Winston Churchill in a letter to his mother written after the charge of his 21st Lancers at the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudanese War (1898) said, “Never were soldiers more willing. I told my troop they were the finest men in the world and I am sure they would have followed me as far as I would have gone, and that I may tell you, and only you, was a very long way - for my soul becomes very high in such moments.”
Roussel’s song makes you a part of this battle. As one reviewer has said, “This magnificently savage chorus assuredly remains one of the finest in the male-voice repertoire.”
Marche de Novembre (1975)
Roger Boutry (b. 1932)
Roger Boutry is a French pianist, composer, conductor and arranger, and lives in Paris. He studied at the Conservatoire, where he won several first prizes. His military service was with the 6th Battalion Alpine Chasseurs, including service in Algeria. He has had an international concert career as a pianist, being featured in the U..S., Russia, Australia and Japan. He has been the conductor of the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra, the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Italy, as well as other orchestras in Belgium and France. For 24 years he was the Chef des Musiques of the Garde Républicaine, which is a unit of the Gendarmerie Nationale, a branch of the French armed forces under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior. The band of the Garde (the “Orchestre de la Garde Républicaine”) is the senior band and field music unit of the French armed forces.
Maestro Boutry has given us special permission to perform Marche de Novembre, an unpublished work, on this concert. It was composed to commemorate the Battle of Verdun in 1916, in which there were between 700,000 and 800,000 total casualties, including over 300,000 deaths.
Short Film: “Homecoming” (2018)
During the performance of the Marche de Novembre a short film will be shown. It is meant as a reminder that all wars have a human cost. Some veterans return home for a happy reunion with their loved ones; some do not return. Even for those who do return, some are changed permanently.
This film was created specifically for the War and the Human Heart concerts. The director was Siiri Scott, Head of Acting and Directing at the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. The videographer was Saddam Al-Zubaidi, Instructor of Media Production at Valparaiso University. It was produced by the Chansons de Guerre Fund. The actors, all from northwest Indiana, were: Sharon Angelina, Matthew Byerly, Vicki Cash, John Irak, Mark McColley, Christian McCord, Rory McMahan, Pat Pohrte, Wayne Puchkors and Laura Toops. The participants are thankful for the contributions of Valparaiso University and Jeff Hazewinkel, Director of the Valparaiso University Center for the Arts.
Polní Mše (Field Mass/Soldier’s Mass/Military Mass) H. 279 (1939)
Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959)
For those who have not served in the military, perhaps it is possible to intellectually “understand” what the experience is like, but when we thank a veteran for their service, most of us do not fully understand what that service really was, especially the experience of a veteran who has been in combat. Other musical selections on this concert program explore certain aspects of a veteran’s experience, but in Martinů’s passionate music and the text by Jiří Mucha the listener actually can feel the whole range of what the veteran feels: the fear, the loneliness, the homesickness, and, overriding these vulnerabilities, the veteran’s sense of duty and willingness to sacrifice.
Bohuslav Martinů was a Czech composer who spent many years in France, until he was forced to flee to the United States by the German invasion in 1940. He was prolific, having composed nearly 400 works. In March 1939 German troops invaded what was then Czechoslovakia, and occupied the country. Before the borders closed completely, many Czechoslovak soldiers made their way to France and other countries to continue the fight. Martinů dedicated the Polní Mše “To Czechoslovak volunteers on the French frontline.” Martinů conceived the work for military use outdoors and not for liturgical purposes, telling a New York newspaper that the work “...was written to be performed out of doors - under the sky and clouds that unite us with the soldiers at the front as well as with our compatriots at home”. This is reflected in the instrumental scoring, which is sparse and includes a harmonium—a small portable pump organ often used in outdoor settings.
The text of the Polní Mše was written by Jiří Mucha, who was a veteran himself, having joined the Czech detachments in France, and after the fall of France joining the British Royal Air Force. The text is a mixture of Bohemian folk poetry, Mucha’s poems, passages from Psalms 42, 44, 54, 56 and 57, as well as some lines from the service of the Mass. The secular texts express the feelings of a lone soldier on guard duty, a mixture of memories of home and invocations of God’s protection.
Due to wartime conditions, this piece was never performed as intended. It received its premiere in Prague in 1946, after the end of World War II. The premiere was conducted by Rafael Kubelik, who later became the conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Quand Madelon (1914)
Camille Robert (1872-1957)
“Poilu” (“hairy one”) was the nickname for French infantrymen during World War I. On the Western Front the Poilus bore the brunt of the trench warfare for most of the war. Nearly 70 percent of the 8.3 million French infantrymen who served in the war became casualties. At the beginning of the war they were arrayed in dark blue jackets and red pants, and a cap (“kepi”). In 1915 the army changed the poilus’ uniforms to the less-ostentatious blue-grey (and a helmet). (The poilus’ red pants are referred to in the Quand Madelon song—the name of the cabaret where Madelon works is called “Aux Tourlourous” (a reference to the soldiers’ red trousers).
One French song of the era of the First World War stands out as the hit of the war and long remained in popular memory: the music hall march entitled Quand Madelon. It became for French soldiers an identifying theme song, as It’s a Long Way to Tipperary was for British infantrymen and Over There was for the Americans. During the war soldiers and their entertainers sang it on or near the front. Civilians heard it and sang it in music halls behind the lines.
Through the decades between the wars Quand Madelon persisted as one of the most familiar and emotionally-charged songs in France. It figured routinely in plays and movies set in the period of the war, and it inspired numerous sequels and legends. Developed in its own right, apart from the music, the Madelon motif recurred in literature, plays, and films. Even when the Second World War ended preoccupation with the Great War, Madelon did not disappear. She enjoyed revivals at the time of the Liberation and again in the mid-1950s. In the course of the twentieth century Madelon had become a basic myth, a commonly-known collective representation, in French popular culture.
Its lyrics form a narrative told by common soldiers. In the first verse they describe a “young and nice” barmaid named Madelon who works at a pastoral drinking spot. Madelon is “light like a butterfly” and has an eye that sparkles like the wine she serves to her admiring, indeed adoring, soldier friends. In the second verse the men speak of their distant sweethearts whom they will one day marry. Meanwhile there is Madelon, who is gentle and kind as she listens to the men telling her what they cannot say to their favorites back home. She is also there for a quick embrace, as the men imagine her to be the absent woman. In the last verse she refuses the proposal of a smitten officer, out of fondness for all the soldiers of the regiment.
Camille Robert was a French composer, son of a conductor at the New Paris Opera, and is said to have been born in the Paris Opera building. At the Conservatoire de Musique Robert earned medals for piano and solfège. He composed more than 300 works, was conductor of the symphony orchestra of the Palace of the Elysée, and a music teacher. Louis Bousquet was a lyricist who worked with many of the popular songwriters of his era. He was introduced to Camille Robert by Bach, a comic singer, who was chiefly responsible for introducing Quand Madelon to the public and the poilus, and for its popularity.
The Reveille Op. 89b (1962)
Gardner Read (1913-2005)
The Reveille is a poem by the celebrated American poet Francis Bret Harte (1839-1902), from the book The Lost Galleon and Other Tales (1867). It has been set to music by several composers, including Sir Edward Elgar (part-songs, 1909).
The Reveille is a Civil War-era poem. At the time of the war Harte was a newspaper writer in California, far away from the fighting. Because California had attracted emigrants from all over the United States, including many from the South, opinions were divided: some wanted to align with the Confederacy; some wanted to withdraw from the Union and become a separate country; but most wanted to support the Union. Harte developed strong Union sentiments on the war, an opinion which was heavily influenced through his relationship with Thomas Starr King, a local Unitarian minister. In June 15, 1863 President Lincoln issued his Proclamation 102—“A Call for 100,000 Militia to Serve for Six Months.” King asked Harte to write The Reveille for a large meeting at the San Francisco Opera House. The poem is a call to Californians to subordinate their differences to the Union cause. It refers to the ambivalence of many Californians who questioned getting involved in a conflict so far away, and who wondered “what was in it for us.” Harte’s poem expresses optimism that Californians would answer the call to duty.
The American composer Gardner Read studied at the Eastman School of Music, and during his compositional career produced over 250 works for a wide variety of genres and instrumentations. These included four symphonies, an opera, an oratorio, and incidental music for several plays. Read’s works were performed and recorded by some of the foremost artists and ensembles of his day. In 1937, his Symphony No. 1 was awarded the top prize in the American Composer‘s Contest and was consequently premiered by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Sir John Barbirolli. Six years later Read‘s Symphony No. 2 was similarly honored, as the prizewinning work in the Paderewski Fund Competition (beating out Leonard Bernstein’s Jeremiah symphony), this time with a premiere given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Serge Koussevitzky. In addition to composing, Read served as a professor of composition at a number of institutions, most notably Boston University (1948-78). Read also wrote eight books, the subjects of which included musical notation and orchestration. Read said the principal influences on his compositional style were Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams, Copland, and Hanson.
Read’s setting of The Reveille is somewhat dark and sonorous, scored for bassoons, brass, percussion and organ, but resolving into a bright finish. Keeping to the spirit and words of the poem, a relentless drumbeat continues throughout.
Turn Back O Man Op. 36a/H.134 (1916)
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
The poem that Gustav Holst set to music in this piece was written by Clifford Bax. Bax was an English writer, and brother of composer Arnold Bax. Bax and Holst were friends, and Bax introduced Holst to astrology, which became a hobby of Holst’s (and figured prominently in Holst’s most popular work, The Planets).
Holst was working on a musical setting based on the tune of the “Old 124th”, a very well-known English hymn first published in the 1551 edition of the Genevan Psalter, and wanted a new text for the music. Bax wrote the poem, which he called Hymn (1916). It was later included in a collection of Bax poems written over a several-year period, Farewell My Muse (1932). Bax said this collection contained all the poems he “wished to be remembered for,” and that he was giving up writing poetry, asking how can beauty be created in the midst of war:
How shall we make strong verse, verse to endure,
With half the peoples of mankind at odds,
With the foundations of our life unsure,
And no faith anywhere in God or gods?
In this war-shattered, war-expecting age
How shall a man, concentrating all his power,
Spend weeks upon the splendoring of a page
Or nurse a delicate fancy into a flower?
Bax was a Theosophist (as was, interestingly, Holst’s mother). One of the major beliefs, or perhaps the fundamental tenet of the Theosophists was the unity of all things. Bax wrote, in The Meaning of Man, “Earth, and moon, and sun, All that is, that has been, and that ever time shall reap is but moving home again, with mighty labours done, The Many to the Everlasting One.” The concept of unity infuses Turn Back O Man. The descending bass figure that continues throughout the piece could suggest the relentless march of time—time that Man’s tribes are wasting fighting among themselves.
Perhaps one point that Bax and Holst were trying to get across is, it is we who are Man. The poem refers to “Thou, whose head is crowned with flame”. The “thou” is us. Although we can easily blame our leaders for involving us in questionable conflicts, we live in a democratic society where the choice of leaders is up to us. As we have seen throughout this concert, there are many types of wars, and sometimes people are caught up in war due to the actions of an external aggressor. But as for “voluntary” conflicts, where we send our veterans to foreign lands, that is on us. We can either agree with such involvements or not, but we must always ask the question, “Is the human price worth it?”
We Have Fed Our Sea for a Thousand Years (1911)
Percy Grainger (1882-1961)
.Percy Grainger was born in Australia, emigrated to England, and then in 1914 traveled to the United States and became a U.S. citizen in 1918. He served as a U.S. Army musician during World War I. Grainger was a truly unique and complex individual, both in personality and in musical output. He was a physical fitness “nut”, a vegetarian (who didn’t like vegetables), a non-smoker, a teetotaler. He invented new instruments and invented the term “free music”, by which he meant music freed from traditional forms and “the filthy Sonata-Symphony form”. “My life”, Grainger wrote, “has been one of kicking out into space, while the world around us is dying of good taste.”
Grainger is perhaps best known for traveling throughout the United Kingdom, recording (on the primitive equipment available at the turn of the 20th Century) old English folk songs. He is credited from an ethnomusicological standpoint for preserving these songs, and the voices of the original singers, which would otherwise have long ago disappeared. He also arranged many of these folk songs for various combinations of instruments and voices. He was an accomplished pianist and a celebrity in his day: he was married in 1928 in the Hollywood Bowl before an audience of 15,000 (after a concert in which he performed and conducted one of his own compositions).
Grainger was greatly influenced by Rudyard Kipling’s poetry books, given to him at the age of thirteen by his father, and over his lifetime he planned to write a series of Kipling settings. We Have Fed Our Sea is Grainger’s Kipling Setting No. 2. It is part of the poem The Song of the Dead in A Song of the English from The Seven Seas (1900). Grainger’s friend, the pianist and composer Cyril Scott, said, “'Whenever Grainger elects to produce one of his Kipling settings . . . he becomes Kipling.”
The score to this piece states that it is dedicated to his mother, and has the following note: “Begun: San Remo, about 24,2,1900. Ended: London, 1,7,1904. Re-scored: Summer, 1911. Birthday gift, mother, 3,7,1904.” The score reflects Grainger’s well-known eccentricity: regarding the instrumental ensemble, he says it is for “mixed chorus, brass and strings (the strings can be done without at will)”. Instead of designating the choral parts as soprano, alto, tenor and bass, Grainger called the women’s parts “Highs” and “Lows” and the men’s parts “Highs,” “Middles”, “1st Lows” and “2nd Lows.” He directs the conductor—eschewing the classical Italian idiom—to play the piece “Flowingly and Very Clingingly”, and instead of, for instance, “poco a poco crescendo molto” Grainger’s instruction is “louden lots bit by bit”.
Kipling was undeniably a Romantic, but We Have Fed Our Sea shares a common theme with several other of his works (e.g., The Recessional, The White Man’s Burden, Arithmetic on the Frontier): the steep price of empire. Kipling was clearly attempting to send a message to the British people, and their leaders, to always be cognizant of that price as they pursued their goals; to remember, lest they forget, that policy decisions have human consequences, and often, policy tradeoffs cost human lives. This should be a guiding principle for all powerful nations in any era.